Wyoming Catholic’s New President Emphasizes Faith, ‘Unique Vision of Education’
“The great necessity,” Arbery told the Cardinal Newman Society in a recent interview, “is making sure that our Catholic faith does not become a mere inflection on what we do academically.”
Arbery served as academic dean and an associate professor of humanities before being named interim president of the Newman Guide-recommended college in Lander, Wyo. He has taught literature at three other Newman Guide-recommended institutions: the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and the University of Dallas.
“Having devoted much of my professional life to the cause of liberal education, I’m excited to lead such a stellar institution, and I’m greatly honored, greatly humbled at the opportunity,” Arbery said in a video message accompanying the College’s announcement.
He added: “This college will continue to pass on the great tradition of the West, and to provide the coherent, spiritually hopeful education founded on the Rock of the Church, so needed in this world today.”
Arbery was first appointed interim president of the small, Great Books college after his predecessor, Dr. Kevin Roberts, stepped down to take a position in the public policy arena in Texas.
Roberts encouraged Arbery’s interim appointment saying, “I think we’re all hopeful that Glenn would like to be in that role. He wants to take some time to think and pray about that. But he will do a wonderful job as interim president. He’s done a great job as dean.”
Initially intending to conduct a nationwide search for a new president, the leaders of Wyoming Catholic College decided in April 2016 that the best candidate already had the job.
“As we moved forward on that front,” Dave Kellogg, Chairman of the college’s Board of Directors, said, “we came to recognize that we already had the best candidate right here in Lander.”
By choosing Arbery, Kellogg said, the school would continue its current mission without interruption.
Roberts praised the College’s decision, saying, “I cannot think of a better man to follow me as president. Dr. Glenn Arbery is a wise and thoughtful leader, and he will guide this College to many great days ahead.”
Arbery recently spoke to the Newman Society about his first year as president of Wyoming Catholic College.
Newman Society: How has your experience as president been so far?
Dr. Arbery: It has been a challenging and exciting year.
Newman Society: What have you been most surprised by?
Dr. Arbery: Perhaps it should not have been a surprise, but meeting the longtime supporters and friends of Wyoming Catholic has been, in every case, warm and illuminating—a “happy meeting” in the sense of the St. Raphael prayer that my wife and I say every morning: “Raphael, angel of happy meetings, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.”
Newman Society: Before being appointed president, you had served as academic dean at Wyoming Catholic. Why was the position of president attractive to you?
Dr. Arbery: I have had the opportunity, as the College approached its tenth year, to continue to help integrate various dimensions of our work—the Great Books curriculum, the outdoor program, the chaplaincy—and to articulate our unique vision of education.
Newman Society: Wyoming Catholic is recommended again in the Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity. How do you plan to maintain the college’s Catholic identity?
Dr. Arbery: The great necessity, of course, is making sure that our Catholic faith does not become a mere inflection on what we do academically. It’s crucial to hire and keep faculty whose Catholicism is central to who they are and why they teach. The curriculum also makes a tremendous difference. Students at WCC take theology every semester of their four years here, but the Faith is also assumed in every other subject as well. With two chaplains, two college Masses almost every day, daily opportunities for confession, adoration and the Liturgy of the Hours, we make our faith the fabric of every day.
Newman Society: What role do you hope Wyoming Catholic will play in the future of Catholic higher education?
Dr. Arbery: After Dr. R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, visited us last October, he went back to New York and wrote that students like ours will be the leaven in the culture. I hope that the example of WCC, with its combination of tradition and imaginative innovation, will show larger, older and—frankly—wearier universities what the possibilities are in forming students who have spiritual fervor, intellectual depth and good practical sense.
The Newman Society: This year’s Newman Guide shares the good news that enrollment at Wyoming Catholic has grown 150 percent in seven years with the largest freshman classes in the last two years. What does the future look like for Wyoming Catholic College?
Dr. Arbery: I’m very optimistic. Like all small colleges, we have many challenges, but I have faith that we can meet them all. We’re on track for another big class. Our founder, Bishop David Ricken (now in Green Bay) always says that Our Lady called this college into existence, and I’m convinced that he’s right.
Newman Society: Wyoming Catholic is unique in its dual emphasis on a Great Books curriculum in conjunction with an outdoor leadership program. How do those two things together fulfill the evangelical mission of Catholic education?
Dr. Arbery: For the past few years, our own highly trained graduates and upperclassmen have been leading the outdoor trips, including the 21-day backpacking trip in the mountains that begins every student’s freshman year. In the back country, our students undergo what might be called a practical tutorial in the cardinal virtues, and they do it in a setting that gives them every day in the grandeur of the Wind River Mountains, every night under the stars, an experience of wonder that they bring back to the classroom. They test themselves, they gain new confidence and they work, each in his or her own way, toward a harmony of intellectual and moral virtues, crowned by faith, hope and charity. It’s easy to idealize them, and of course they have their faults, but I’ve never taught students like these. They are all different, and yet they share a spirit of community that I know they will take with them into the world.
Newman Society: If you could give some advice on the key to fostering a strong Catholic identity on campus, what would you say to other college presidents or faculty about the state of Catholic education and what needs to be done to ensure its defense and protection going forward?
Dr. Arbery: Hire the right people. Pay more attention to the person than to the supposed prestige of the degree. Give the Faith its natural centrality, and then let it thrive.
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